As Castles of Burgundy is an older and already well-known game, this is going to be a short review. Many people wrote about the game, made videos and talked about it on podcasts. Why would you read this one? You shouldn’t. It’s just another write-up from someone who likes the game.
Castles of Burgundy, designed by Stefan Feld, is basically a tile laying game where the players use dice to select their actions. I’m not going into the theme here, because it’s barely there. I’m going to be very mechanism focused in this overview.
There’s a central board. Here you find locations with a number from one to six. At these locations you find different types of tiles. Every player has its own player board with a grid that shows where to place what type of tile. A spot has a number from one to six too. Every turn, you roll your two dice and you assign these dice to certain actions. One action is to buy a tile from the board by using a die that matches the number from one of the six locations. You can place this tile in your personal supply. You can place the tiles from your personal supply, you can only have so many in it, by using a die that matches the number of the spot where you want to place the tile on your player board. Once you placed a tile you can execute the tile’s action and / or you might get some points.
Either because you completed an area of the same type of tiles, or you are the first or second player that filled all spots of a certain type of tile, or you placed a pasture tile.
Pasture tiles give you points for every similar animal that is depicted on tiles in the same area. Other things tiles might let you do are buying goods, executing a ‘wild’ die action, giving you end-game scoring conditions, letting you take another tile, give you more workers or more money and other stuff.
Workers are there to adjust the outcome of a die roll. With your money you can buy ‘special’ tiles from the centre of the board. These tiles are the same as the ones that are placed on the six locations, but are only available to people with money and buying it will not take up one of your actions.
You can also use a die to ship the goods you’ve bought for points and money.
This is it basically. The sooner you complete areas the more points you’ll get. You’ll get points for your animals, shipping goods, your end-game scoring conditions and excess goods and gold at the end of the game. You win if you have the most points.
Why is this such a good, such a fun game? I can think of a couple of things. First of all, the supply of tiles, of specific types of tiles, is limited. For instance, every round in a two player game there will be only one mine on the board for you to take. Mines give you silver, silver is very important. So, you know that only one player can buy that tile during a round. After every round, which takes six turns, the board is reset and all tiles are removed from the central board and replaced by new ones.
So, if you see a tile you like or need, you better find to a way to take it. Either by directly taking it, using a die, or by placing a tile on your player board that allows you to take an extra tile of a specific kind.
It’s the competition between the players and buying and placing the right tiles at the right time, so you can get the most out of your turn, that is fun. In a two-player game this is the most fun, because it’s ‘man to man’. I can see what you want, you can see what I need. Then I can directly buy a tile you need. Not that I directly need it, but you do and I don’t want you to get loads of points.
You use dice as your ‘workers’, the mechanism to selects your action, and when I hear dice, I think luck, but in this game there are so many ways to victory I never feel like I’m lucky, or at least not very lucky. Ideally you want to roll two specific numbers, because you have a plan, an order in which you want to do things. Sometimes you are not able to do the things you want to do, or just not in the ideal order, because of the result of your die roll. Unlucky? Do you have less luck when the result of your die roll doesn’t suit your plan than when your opponent blocks you by placing his player pawn on a worker placement spot you wanted to use? No, I don’t think so. In both situations you just have to find another way to get what you need.
Castles of Burgundy is a perfect mix of randomness of a die roll and the strategy that comes with picking and choosing the right tiles with special abilities and placing them on your board at the right time.
I do understand why so many people think of this game as one of Feld’s best, or maybe even his best game. It’s a perfect mid-weight euro. It plays quite fast, the result of your die roll limits our choices, you can only do two things, but there’s still enough to think about. Along with Trajan and Bruges I also think that this is one of Feld’s best games.